Prison hallway

New survey uncovers the experiences of LGBTQ prisoners

A groundbreaking new report by Black & Pink, a network of LGBTQ prisoners and allies working to abolish the prison industrial complex, gives us stark new data on the incarceration of LGBTQ people. 

Coming Out of Concrete Closets: A Report on Black & Pink’s National LGBTQ Prisoner Survey surveyed 1,118 prisoners across the United States, who took the time to hand write and respond to a 113 question survey that was itself designed and drafted with prisoners themselves. The report’s findings paint a grim picture of criminalization of and violence towards LGBTQ people — particularly LGBTQ people of color.

We’ve talked a lot at Feministing about the criminalization and policing of LGBTQ people — how LGBTQ people are policed, brutalized, and murdered by the police for their fashion choices, for carrying condoms, for being young and queer, for existing in bodies that are dangerous to the status quo. All this contact with police by LGBTQ people, particularly low-income LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people of color, leads to disproportionate incarceration and violence within prisons.

Black & Pink’s report uncovers the ways some of these dynamics work together to form a dragnet of criminalization for the most marginalized LGBTQ people in our communities: Nearly a fifth of respondents reported being homeless or transient prior to their incarceration; while 29 percent lived with a friend, only 52 percent of respondents had been living in a home of their own. Over a third reported having been unemployed prior to their incarceration (nearly 7 times the general unemployment rate in 2014), with many turning to underground economies such as trading sex or selling drugs for money. And close to two thirds (58 percent) of the respondents’ first arrest occurred when they were under the age of 18, highlighting the ways LGBTQ youth in particular are criminalized.

Once in prison, respondents report disproportionate penalizing and extreme levels of violence and brutality. Respondents were twice as likely to be serving life sentences than the general state and federal populations. Seventy percent of respondents experienced emotional pain from hiding their sexuality during incarceration, and 78 percent of trans and gender non-conforming respondents experienced this from hiding their gender identity. Eighty-five percent of respondents have been in solitay confinement, and respondents of color as well as prisoners with a mental illness diagnosis were much more likely to have been in solitary at the time of the survey.

Horrifyingly — if not surprisingly — respondents were four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general prison population, and all prisoners have experienced strip searches — meaning that despite the declared intentions of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, 100 percent of prisoners have experienced sexual violence at the hands of prison staff. And while 70 percent of respondents say that they have been sexually active in prison, only 2 percent reported access to condoms allowed by the prison — though 20 percent have found ways to use a condom or another barrier to stop the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

These findings are only the beginning of this brilliant and groundbreaking report, whose findings give us an important and unprecedented look at the experiences of LGBTQ communities existing on the inside. Please check it out in full here!

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Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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